Reality television is often required to rustle up fake drama to keep the action ticking along. But the setbacks confronting aspiring alpaca baron Joe Phelan in the first episode of the latest season of hotel makeover series At Your Service (RTÉ One, Monday) are all too genuine.
Feeling without purpose after the last of his children leaves home, Phelan has packed in his high-flying banking career to start tending alpacas — a more obscure cousin of the llama — in rural Wicklow. His ultimate goal is a sort of alpaca Disneyland — an agri-tourism business with nature trails, shops and luxury accommodation. And, as all this is new to him, he could do with some expert advice. Who’s he going to call? The answer is the ace hotelier duo of Francis and John Brennan.
And then the sheep hits the fan and At Your Service turns into a compelling human-interest story: a “build it and they will come” Field of Dreams remake with South American pack animals replacing Kevin Costner with a faraway look in his eyes. The first hurdle is obviously the pandemic. That is quickly followed by a TB outbreak among the alpacas. Next, Phelan is diagnosed with prostate cancer. Could things get any worse?
With so much llama drama, there is a limit to what the Brennans can do
Of course they can. Joe’s brother, who has worked himself into the ground assisting his sibling, steps back owing to ill health. At this point, many people would give up and say adios to the alpacas. However, underneath the suave corporate exterior, Phelan is revealed to be soulful and resourceful. He sticks with it.
With so much llama drama, there is a limit to what the Brennans can do. Nonetheless, Francis is soon in Newtownmountkennedy advising Joe that he should make his self-catering cottages larger and providing various other tips as Phelan strives to bring his project to fruition.
Joe goes to lockdown hell and back. “The stress levels went through the roof,” he says. Francis Brennan agrees. “The doors are off the hinges,” he notes during a visit. “I’m nearly off the hinges myself.’
But then, finally, the finish line comes into view. The accommodation is complete. K2 Alpacas is fully up and running. And At Your Service has cast aside RTÉ reality-television cliche and delivered an authentically feel-good tale — proving that where there’s wool there’s a way.